New halfway house for recovering addicts

A ‘halfway house’ operated by the National Drug Agency (NDA) for recovering drug addicts was opened in Hulhumalé yesterday. Recovering addicts will spend three months at the halfway house studying and learning work skills.

The halfway house was funded out of the government budget with assistance from an Italian organisation called Caritas Italiana.

The foundation stone for the halfway house was laid in July 2011.

Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, home minister Umar Naseer said providing rehabilitation for drug users was a high priority for the current administration.

He noted that drug addicts often relapse after undergoing treatment at rehabilitation centres. The halfway house will play an important role in reintegrating addicts back to society, he said.

Some 17 recovering addicts are currently residing in the new halfway house.

A national drug use survey published in 2012 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 48 percent of drug users in the Maldives feel they are neglected and perceived as outcasts by the local community.

The stigmatisation of drug addicts leads to the creation of a cycle of addiction with recovering addicts relapsing back into drug abuse as an escape from perceived ‘disgrace’ they have brought upon themselves and their families.

The UNODC survey found that there were 7,496 drug users in the Maldives between the age of 15 and 64 in the Maldives and that 48 percent of drug users in the capital Malé were between the ages of 15 and 19 years.



Islamic ministry distributes Zakat

The Islamic ministry began distributing Zakat (alms for the poor) yesterday at a rate of MVR500 (US$32) per person.

Zakat is an obligatory alms tax collected from the accumulated wealth of all able Muslims.

A large number of people reportedly began queuing outside the Islamic centre at 10:30am yesterday. More than 13,000 people in Malé and 37,800 people in other islands are registered as poor and eligible for Zakat.

Zakat is collected in the Maldives as 2.4kg of rice per person or its price, ranging from MVR12 to MVR75 depending on the quality of the rice.

The ministry has not revealed the amount collected as Zakat this year. Last year, the ministry collected MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) from Malé, which was distributed at a rate of MVR130 per person.

The ministry also collected a record MVR52 million (US$3.3 million) as property Zakat last year and distributed MVR400 (US$26) per person. The registered number of poor in 2014 was more than 53,000.

The property Zakat for this year was distributed last month at the same rate of MVR400 per person.


More than half of civil servants eligible for annual bonus

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has said that annual bonuses worth MVR40 million (US$2.5 million) will be distributed to more than 13,000 civil servants with the monthly pay for July and August.

CSC senior human resource officer Mohamed Riza told the press today that the annual bonus will be handed out based on evaluation of civil servants’ work between February 2014 and January 2015.

Civil servants who earned 95 percent and above in the appraisal will receive a bonus equivalent to a month’s pay. Those who earned between 85 and 95 percent will receive two thirds of their basic salary, while those between 84.9 and 75 percent will receive one-third of their basic monthly salary.

Some 13,905 employees or 55 percent of the country’s 25,076 civil servants will receive the bonus.


Minor arrested in the Fuvahmulah child prostitution case

Police have today arrested a 17 year old boy in Fuvahmulah child prostitution ring uncovered last week, police media has revealed.

All other suspects are aged 20-55 years, from Fuvahmulah and other islands. Currently 14 men and a woman have been arrested.

Two girls of ages 16 and 14 were tricked into using drugs and filmed naked, CNM reported. The men threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minors.

Sources from Fuvahmulah meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the girls gave police a list of 50 suspects.

Ten suspects were taken into custody on Friday. The Fuvahmulah magistrate court granted 15-day extensions of remand detention the following day

The police began investigating the case on July 5 based on intelligence information, Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed told the media on Sunday.

A special  team from the Police family and child protection unit is currently  working at Fuvamulah, with the island’s police station.

In February 2014, seven men were arrested from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll on suspicion of forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

In the first official acknowledgement of child prostitution in the Maldives, then-Gender Minister Azima Shukoor revealed in May 2013 that children were “being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade.”

In June 2013, multiple sources told Minivan News that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively exploiting their children.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rate of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.


May Day protester pleads guilty to assaulting police officer

A suspect on trial for assaulting a police officer during a mass anti-government protest on May 1 has pleaded guilty to assault charges today.

At the first hearing of the trial today, Mohamed Shinan, from the Malaaz house in Shaviyani Goidhoo, reportedly admitted kicking the Specialist Operation (SO) police officer twice. Shinan noted that he had confessed to the crime during the police interrogation.

Shinan also asked for leniency in his detention when chief judge Abdulla Mohamed asked the defendant if he had anything to add.

Scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes on the night of May 1. Video footage shows protesters tripping and kicking the SO officer and one man hitting the policeman over the head with his baton.

Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain was flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after the assault while the police publicised video footage of the incident and appealed for public assistance in locating suspects.

The prosecutor general’s office has charged 13 people over the incident. The other defendants have been given time to appoint lawyers.

The assault charge carries a jail sentence of between three to five years.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had meanwhile accused police of torturing and threatening to kill three suspects arrested for assaulting the police officer.


President’s office seeks new members for HRCM

The president’s office has invited interested candidates to apply for membership of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) ahead of a 2:00pm deadline next Tuesday.

In an announcement published in the government gazette today, the president’s office said application forms and a list of required documentation are available on the president’s office website.

The five-year terms of HRCM members Dr Ali Shameem and Ahmed Abdul Kareem are due to expire in September.

Last month, President Abdulla Yameen nominated former MP Shifaq Mufeed ‘Histo,’ Aishath Afreen Mohamed, and Aminath Eenas to replace three HRCM members whose terms are due to expire in August.

The nominees were sent for evaluation by the parliament’s independent institutions committee on June 15.

Some 33 interested candidates had submitted application forms to the president’s office.

The three members whose terms are up in August are HRCM president Mariyam Azra, vice president Ahmed Tholal, and Jeehan Mahmood.

Pro-government MPs have previously accused Tholal and Jeehan of bias towards the opposition MDP, an accusation the pair deny.

Meanwhile, in a controversial ruling last month, the Supreme Court found a human rights assessment submitted by the HRCM to the UN unlawful, and imposed an 11-point guideline prescribing how the independent commission should operate within the law.

The guideline barred the HRCM from communicating with foreign organisations without government oversight.

UN rights experts, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and civil society groups have denounced the guideline as one that restricts the HRCM’s work and its right to share information freely with the UN.

But the government said the guidelines “do no stipulate, in any specific terms, any restriction or limitation on the HRCM’s ability to submit reports to the UN or any other national or international organ in the future.”

The guideline was issued under suo moto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

In its 2014 annual report, described the suo moto proceedings as the biggest challenge the watchdog has faced in its 11-year history.


Former Islamic minister appointed Islamic university’s vice chancellor

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed former Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed as the vice chancellor of the newly formed Maldives Islamic University (MIU).

Shaheem, a senior member of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP), resigned from the cabinet on May 5. Following his resignation, Shaheem said he was considering retiring from politics to focus on social work.

President Yameen also appointed former education minister Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain as MIU chancellor yesterday. He was previously the chancellor of the Maldives National University (MNU).

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali revealed today that the president has also appointed five members to the MIU governing council.

The five members are deputy minister for Islamic affairs Mohamed Musthafa Ibrahim, the president’s representative on the Judicial Service Commission Mohamed Faisal, Dr Mohamed Haneef, Shuhad Rizwan, and Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim.

The president has also appointed five members to the Maldives National University’s (MNU) governing council, including information commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur.

The other members are Dr Fathmath Nazla Rafeeq, Dr Hussain Faiz, Mohamed Iuveiz, and Ismail Visham.

The appointments follow ratification of amendments to the Maldives National University Act last week, which authorised the president to appoint nine members to the 13-member governing council, including the chancellor and the vice chancellor.

The president could previously only appoint the chancellor.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had warned that the changes will compromise the MNU’s independence and politicise the institution.


Sri Lanka and Maldives stock exchanges sign deal for cooperation

The Sri Lanka and Maldives stock exchanges have signed a memorandum of understanding for co-operation in marketing, creating a framework for cross-listings and dual listing of securities, and cross-border regulation of companies.

Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) Chief Executive Rajeeva Bandaranaike said in a statement that the CSE has shared “cordial and close relations” with its Maldivian counterpart since its inception in 2002.

Maldives Stock Exchange (MSE) Chief Executive Hassan Manik said the MoU “will help both our exchanges to learn from each other’s experiences,”

“In comparison to the CSE the MSE is a very small Exchange, therefore there are many areas in which the CSE can help the MSE to grow and develop,” he was quoted as saying by the Sri Lanka-based EconomyNext financial news service.



Three more suspects arrested in Fuvahmulah child prostitution case

Three more suspects have been arrested in connection with a child prostitution ring uncovered in Fuvahmulah last week.

The police said in a statement today that the suspects taken into custody last night included two men aged 24 and 25 as well as a 21-year-old woman.

The Fuvahmulah magistrate court has ordered the men to be held in remand detention for 15 days and the woman for 10 days.

The 24-year-old suspect has a criminal record for theft and damaging property, the police said. He had previously been arrested twice and questioned 18 times.

Two cases involving the 25-year-old have meanwhile been sent for prosecution. He has been arrested twice previously on charges of rape and theft.

On Friday, ten men were arrested in Fuvahmulah on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing children into prostitution. An additional suspect was arrested yesterday.

The girls were reportedly tricked into using drugs and filmed naked by the suspects, who then threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minors.